HE was a modest figure, waiting to be taken into the radio studio. Some politicians behave with massive bluster and self-importance on these occasions. This chap was diffident, quiet, and undemanding. He was perfectly anonymous. He might have been a marine biologist with a specialism in sea cucumbers, or a young minister, fresh from his first parish, come to deliver a worthy Thought for the Day. But this lanky figure was Paul Masterton, the newly elected Conservative MP for East Renfrewshire, fresh from his first few weeks in the Westminster Parliament.

I’m always interested in the human stories lurking behind the dumb show of politics. I’m not getting the smallest violin in Christendom out for MPs – but as a number of candidates seem likely to learn sooner rather than later, the first few months of tyro MPs’ lives are marvellously strange.

After weeks of campaigning, new-minted MPs find themselves catapulted out of their ordinary working routines. Their lives become fenced in by weekly London commutes, long nights and weeks spent away from their families. They’re plunged into the murky water of the House of Commons with its cultivated mystique and unspoken rules, expected to swim or sink. Idealised visions about what life as an MP might be like quickly fall apart inside the sausage factory.

So I was interested in what this was like, from the perspective of the understated MP representing one of Scotland’s most affluent constituency, and asked him how he was finding the new gig. Masterton is about the same age as me, but we’d never met before. He’s another lawyer. I knew he had young kids.

For his part, he knew who I was, what I do, and understood my constitutional sympathies.

I wasn’t interviewing him. Even so, I expected the usual, bland, pat answers you get from politicians when you try to throw a bit of light on their inner lives. There’s a reason so many politicians learn to cultivate public personas, and avoid putting their whole selves into the public domain.

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I once asked Nicola Sturgeon how she felt about the phenomenon of thousands of people who don’t know you at all – all projecting their feelings onto you.

Good, bad or indifferent – on a human level mustn’t this be a strange, even disembodying experience? Is the gap between what you really are – and what people think you are – a challenging thing to live with?

The First Minister, as anticipated, gave a studiedly evasive answer about what she made of living this way. I didn’t press the point. You expect studiedly evasive answers. Politicians of any experience soon learn caution about treating the public as their confessor, and are rightly suspicious of journalists who try to take the conversation there.

So back in 2017, when I asked Masterton how he was faring in Westminster’s crumbling corridors, I didn’t expect to receive an interesting answer. But I got one. “I’m wondering why I’m spending my time with so many terrible people,” he said.

Masterton was quick to point out that the terrible people he had in mind are clustered all over the place – including in his own party – but I was surprised and a little charmed by this unguarded, remarkably naive response from the newbie politician.

An identikit party suit would never have dreamed of being so indiscreet, particularly to a perfidious cybernat like me, with every reason in the world to tell the public what this new Tory MP thought about his Conservative and Unionist fellow travellers.

But I sat on my hands and sat on the quote, partly cause of the guileless way Masterton said it. To his credit, the Eastwood MP went on to be modestly rebellious against the government line – the only Scottish Tory MP showing any kind of distinctive take on his UK leader’s line on Brexit, a figure on the Daily Telegraph’s early list of enemies within.

Masterton’s independent-mindedness didn’t stretch to rebelling against Boris Johnson this week. In a painfully awkward interview, he explained that he was personally persuaded by the Prime Minister not to join his 21 Tory colleagues in revolt against the Government line, because you have to trust a guy who is “leader of your party” and “leader of your country.”

After two years learning the ropes, Masterton still hasn’t lost his artlessness, telling the TV cameras that “I understand people will say ‘Paul, you’re an idiot, you can’t believe a word this guy says’”.

I suppose that ranks as a warm tribute to the Prime Minister these days. It certainly beats the “incontinent mendacity” he was accused of in the Court of Session on Tuesday. The discomfort is palpable. The lesson, I thought, is there’s nothing worse than discovering that you can’t stand people you once thought of as your friends, allies and fellow-travellers. “I’m wondering why I’m spending my time with so many terrible people.”

It is a strange time. You’d think I’d take a bleak glee in watching the opposition get its act together and the UK Government fall to bits, the gilt on Boris Johnson’s premiership tarnishing as soon as it has been exposed to the oxygen of scrutiny, watching the new sun king dimming rapidly, the supposedly energetic new PM already looking knackered and foggy. And I’ll admit to the occasional evil chortle at their expense this week.

I have no time for this Prime Minister. He has appointed the maddest Cabinet we’ve seen in decades, crammed full of wild-eyed right wingers, know-nothing zealots and self-confident dingbats obviously unfit for high office.

But as a supporter of independence, as a life-long pessimist about the British state, its constitution, politics and institutions – I can’t say I’m surprised.

All this looks like the fullest flowering of the country’s worst inclinations. The United Kingdom is just living down to my expectations.

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But the people I meet who are mad as hell aren’t jaundiced independence supporters like me, but the very sorts who really bought into Better Together vision of Britain, however implausible you may have found it, however arid its emotional story felt to you.

It is these folk who have sat and watched – not only their EU citizenship – being torched, but the norms and institutions they once valued and defended.

It is them watching their institutions collapse, not me. It is them, watching their Conservative Party dispensing with its old and loyal retainers, unsentimentally, bag and baggage. It’s them who’ve lost their sense of moral orientation towards the United Kingdom. It’s them who are excavating foundations which they thought solid – only to turn up sand. It’s them who feel like they’ve lost their country – not me.

Be empathetic. This is hard, hard emotional work. To lose an illusion can also be a painful thing.

It’s also a bereavement. Independence supporters should be alive to what some of our fellow citizens have lost, and be kind.